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Everyday Respectability Politics
Respectability politics makes us comfortable. It hoists us up on our high horses, and takes away our responsibility for the way we treat other people. It puts the burden on the marginalized person to adjust their appearance or behavior to earn respect from the majority.
There are rules, spoken and unspoken, meant to govern the behavior and presentation of people. They are not relative or flexible, but wide-sweeping and stem from colonialism, privilege and whiteness. It forces conformity, erases culture, and alters the path of a people. Many of us like to think of ourselves as progressive and liberal, but frequently exercise respectability politics for reasons we may not understand which are rooted in racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.
Respectability politics makes us comfortable. It hoists us up on our high horses, and takes away our responsibility for the way we treat other people. It puts the burden on the marginalized person to adjust their appearance or behavior to earn respect from the majority. Respectability politics permeates the fabric of our lives, and there are several clear examples to which we can refer.
Clothing and Grooming
One of the most well-known examples of respectability politics is Bill Cosby’s “pull your pants up” advice for black men (which recently backfired). This has snowballed into rules a regulations about hair texture and style, head covering, and skirt lengths. These arbitrary guidelines are used to push people out of institutions - school and work - based on their race, religion, gender, and sexuality. They are sometimes presented as commandments, and sometimes offered as if it is friendly advice. This form of respectability politics comes from the idea that people need only present themselves in a different way to curtail discrimination. It suggests that the challenges faced by the a community - the black community in many cases - stem from an issue within the community itself rather than white supremacy.
Black people, as a matter of course, teach their children how to behave in the presence of police. The fear for their children’s lives leads them to instruct them to immediately put their hands up if they are approached by a police officer. They are told to be polite, use titles to show respect, follow instructions, and refrain from asking questions. They are - whether intentionally or not - taught to fear the police in an attempt to save their lives. The docility encouraged is not unlike that which was required of slaves to prolong their lives. Unfortunately, even following these instructions does not save everyone. Respectability politics did not save the life of Michael Brown, or any of the other people whose names we learned because of their deaths. Still, it is taught after the alphabet, but before parallel parking as a life saving tactic because we do what we must for a mere chance at survival.
Women and girls are taught to cover their bodies to avoid unwanted attention. This is coupled with rules for accessing public space Reported sexual assault is met with questions like “What were you wearing?”, “Where were you?”, and “Why were you out alone?” Respectability politics makes it easy to judge and blame victims. It shifts the focus from the systemic issues we face to the individual’s behavior which is irrelevant to the injustices suffered.
Respectability politics in the African-American context began as a means of self-preservation and negotiation. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wore suits, was well-spoken, and led a peaceful movement. Unfortunately, it did not protect him from assassination much like putting his hands up didn’t save Michael Brown. Respectability politics was a tactic used to get a seat at the table to work with people in positions of power and negotiate for incremental change. Given the tremendous loss of life and lack of justice, we are beyond that point.
Dr. Brittney Cooper and Mychal Denzel Smith debated Dr. Randall Kennedy and Khalil Gibran Muhammed on Respectability and Activism, making solid points about the difference between the politics of respectability in black history and present day. Smith succinctly explained how respectability politics will not help to end racism or any other form of social injustice because the bar will constantly be moved.
“...In the context of a white supremacist heteropatriarchal society, respect is earned by comporting oneself according to the cultural definition of respectable that has been defined by a white supremacist heteropatriarchy which will constantly define us out of it.”
-Mychal Denzel Smith
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.